Saint Patrick wasn’t always so saintly. Nor was he always “just a poor boy,” as Freddie Mercury might have described. In fact, straight from the horse’s mouth, Pat was from a well-to-do family (at least by fifth century standards) before the opportunity for him to “slum it” came along. And even though he might have talked a good game about being taken to Ireland against his will (like most) and held prisoner by “Irish pirates,” we all know rich white boys love a “viable” excuse to complain and prove they’re not like your average rich white boy. With his father being a deacon and his grandfather a priest (with the pretentious names Calpurnius and Potitus, respectively, to match), Young Pat grew up amid the opulence of Roman Britain, affected by the Roman culture in a manner one wishes the accursed island of England still was today. Ireland, alas, never knew the influence of the Roman Empire. It was an island perhaps more accursed than England, and therefore could never be tamed, let alone “conquered.” Even the Irish themselves seem to have yet to conquer it.
But in his day, “Saint” Pat did. No matter that it was in a fashion decidedly in the spirit of Christopher Columbus. But only Italians get slapped with accusations of being monstrous and ghastly, not the Irish. For you’re never accused of oppressing so long as it’s your own kind that you do it to. No, the Irish are “jolly” and “lucky” rather than “choleric” or “racist.” Sure. They also get a bit of sympathy for being lumped in with a similar amount of racism as Black people in the U.S. and Britain, with signs reading “Irish need not apply” in the former and “No Irish, no blacks, no dogs” in the latter. One might say that Young Pat was the progenitor of Hibernophobia in many ways, despite being the patron saint of the nation.
Long before the modern version of anti-Irish sentiment came about, the first known documentation of it happened in the “Before Christ” era of Strabo, a Greek geographer who noted, “Besides some small islands round about Britain, there is also a large island, Ierne, which stretches parallel to Britain on the north, its breadth being greater than its length. Concerning this island I have nothing certain to tell, except that its inhabitants are more savage than the Britons, since they are man-eaters as well as heavy eaters, and since, further, they count it an honourable thing, when their fathers die, to devour them, and openly to have intercourse, not only with the other women, but also with their mothers and sisters…” No wonder Young Pat felt obliged to go back to the “barbaric” island even after he managed to escape it. He could have continued to live his life of luxury back in Britain where he belonged, but somehow (because of God or whoever), he felt it was up to him to introduce these pagans to a little thing called Christianity. For some reason, everyone’s panacea when it comes to wanting to pawn off a “better” way of life on other people.
As fate would have it, this would be the only time the Irish could be converted, as other Englishmen would try for centuries to divert them from their devotion to Catholicism. Edward VI was one such cunty little bastard (well, he was “legitimate,” but you get the point)–the first of his princely kind in the monarchy to be raised as a Protestant, being the spawn of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour. Yet even as king, he couldn’t convince the Irish of anything, least of all converting from Catholicism to Protestantism. It just wasn’t their game. They had already bowed to a British bloke once on going from pagan to Christian, they weren’t going to make a switch ever again.
Even the Welsh–the sodding Welsh–had something to say of the Irish folk’s “barbaric” nature. For Gerald of Wales once wrote, “Dedicated only to leisure and laziness, this is a truly barbarous people. They depend on animals for their livelihood and they live like animals.” No wonder “phrenology” on par with “the Negroes” was used as an argument to prove the Irish were on the same “inferior level,” enough to warrant such discrimation as they received since time immemorial. Enough to be portrayed as gorillas in “satirical” cartoons–the gorilla being named Mr. G. O’Rilla, for added salt in the wound. Yes, yes, all Irish people have last names that start with either “O’” or “Mc” (hence, the slur “mick”). How dreadfully hilarious.
In 1926, a cartoon depicting the KKK casting Saint Patrick out of America, along with all of the Irish’s “hooey” superstitions (as shown via the snakes Saint Patrick was supposed to have cast out of Ireland himself–though there are no snakes in Ireland), revealed that Old St. Paddy wasn’t doing much to protect the Irish from discrimination. Of an extent that not only persisted for centuries, but seemed to exist on every corner of the planet. If Patrick was such a goddamn saint, why wasn’t he working to protect his own? Perhaps because they were not his own. He was a Briton originally, and also, a rich white boy, therefore inherently lazy and expectant that doing the bare minimum would yield maximum results. How ironic that the Irish should be the ones constantly billed as lazy when, in fact, it was simply that they had chosen a patron saint who was.
And in the end, Patrick viewed the Irish with the same holier-than-thou (no pun intended) approach as anyone else who encountered the island when he wrote, “Never before did they know of God except to serve idols and unclean things.” With a self-aggrandizing flourish, he added, “But now, they have become the people of the Lord, and are called children of God.” He felt he was doing them all “a favor” by being there. By insulting their intelligence with use of a shamrock to teach them about the Holy Trinity. Now they can thank him for the Shamrock Shake, ultimately. One wouldn’t be surprised if he took credit for that, too. Not that an offensive accoutrement of a stereotype is really something to be thankful for. But we all assume the Irish can take it in stride. They’re so used to being caricaturized by now. To a point well beyond Saint Patrick’s own inflated perception of himself that somehow led to his “sainthood.”
Saint Brigid watches the fallout of it all from some remote perch, doling out sticks of butter and generally giving things to others that aren’t hers to give. It was almost as though she was born to be a rich white boy, too. But at least she had the decency to prove her true “man of the people” status by converting water into beer.